Antiretroviral medicines for HIV

Information about this medicine

What are the most important things you need to know about your medicines?

Make sure you know about each of the medicines you take. This includes why you take it, how to take it, what you can expect while you're taking it, and any warnings about the medicine.

The information provided here is general. So be sure to read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Why are antiretrovirals for HIV used?

These medicines are used to treat HIV. They reduce the amount of virus in your body (viral load). This helps keep your immune system healthy and helps you live longer. The medicines also help prevent HIV from becoming AIDS.

These medicines are used as part of antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART combines several of these medicines to help treat HIV. The use of three or more of these medicines is the standard treatment. This is sometimes called an anti-HIV "cocktail."

What are some examples of antiretrovirals?

Here are some examples of antiretrovirals. For each item in the list, the generic name is first, followed by any brand names.

Two or more medicines may be combined into one pill. This list does not include any of these combined medicines.

Nucleoside/nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (nucleoside analogs)

  • abacavir (Ziagen)
  • emtricitabine (Emtriva)
  • tenofovir (Viread)

Nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs)

  • efavirenz (Sustiva)
  • etravirine (Intelence)
  • nevirapine (Viramune)

Protease inhibitors (PIs)

  • atazanavir (Reyataz)
  • darunavir (Prezista)
  • ritonavir (Norvir)

Entry and fusion inhibitors

  • enfuvirtide (Fuzeon)
  • maraviroc (Selzentry)

Integrase inhibitors

  • dolutegravir (Tivicay)
  • raltegravir (Isentress)

This is not a complete list.

How do antiretrovirals for HIV work?

When you combine these medicines, HIV slows down. The virus is slower to make copies of itself (multiply) in the body. This allows your immune system to stay healthy.

What about side effects?

Some people feel sick to their stomach when they take these medicines. They may have belly pain or vomit. Some people have diarrhea. They may also feel tired or dizzy.

General information about side effects

All medicines can cause side effects. Many people don't have side effects. And minor side effects sometimes go away after a while.

But sometimes side effects can be a problem or can be serious.

If you're having problems with side effects, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change to a different medicine.

Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of side effects, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Cautions about antiretrovirals

Cautions for antiretrovirals include the following:

  • It's very important to take your HIV medicine as prescribed. If you miss doses, HIV may become resistant to the medicine. This makes HIV harder to treat.

General cautions for all medicines

  • Allergic reactions: All medicines can cause a reaction. This can sometimes be an emergency. Before you take any new medicine, tell the doctor or pharmacist about any past allergic reactions you've had.
  • Drug interactions: Sometimes one medicine may keep another medicine from working well. Or you may get a side effect you didn't expect. Medicines may also interact with certain foods or drinks, like grapefruit juice and alcohol. Some interactions can be dangerous.
  • Harm to unborn babies and newborns: If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medicines you take could harm your baby.
  • Other health problems: Before taking a medicine, be sure your doctor or pharmacist knows about all your health problems. Other health problems may affect your medicine. Or the medicine for one health problem may affect another health problem.

Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. That information will help prevent serious problems.

Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of warnings, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

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Current as of: September 23, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Peter Shalit MD, PhD - Internal Medicine

Antiretroviral medicines for HIV